As the days passed and the toll in terms of lives lost and property damaged has risen as a result of the series of typhoons that has hit Metro Manila and much of northern Luzon, the residents of Lianga and its surrounding communities have tried to keep up with the latest news and developments in the unfolding tragedy of what is fast becoming one of the worst series of natural calamities to hit this country in recent memory. Taking in what many of them are saying about the disastrous events happening in the north has, inadvertently, become my avocation the past week or so.
"It's the wrath of God," asserts B., a senior member of the Catholic laity. "He has seen our wickedness and has sent in the waters to cleanse the world of evil." "Mark my words," he added with one finger wagging in the air. "It's the bitter lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah once again." His pronouncements, to my surprise, caused some listeners to nod their heads in agreement.
I wondered, knowing the man personally, if he would be brave enough to say the same words aloud in front of the hundreds of families in Metro Manila and Rizal, for example, who had lost not only their homes and valuables but more importantly many of their loved ones in the rampaging floods just a week or so ago. Perhaps it was the fact that he knows that his close relatives in the nation's capital are all safe and unaffected by the onslaught of Ondoy and Peping that has given him the courage and the temerity to be so callously judgmental about the suffering of a multitude of others.
B., a more compassionate colleague, is more circumspect. "We need to pray to the Lord more," he interjects. "We need to pray for faith and strength in these times of trials and challenges. Surely, God in his infinite mercy will come to our aid if we, His children, ask for His help and deliverance."
"Plain and simple, it is global warming at fault here," says P., a local pundit and know-it-all. He considers himself a Renaissance man and is rumored to allow only either the Discovery Channel or the National Geographic Channel to show on his cable TV. "We are tampering with the natural forces that help determine weather and climate by warming the earth with our carbon emissions. That is why the weather is changing and typhoons are getting stronger and more destructive."
R., a retired government employee, agrees with P. but goes further. "It's poor city and urban planning," he offers in return. "Too many people are forced to live in low-lying areas actually below sea level yet with poor and insufficient drainage facilities." He shakes his head. "Too much politics and too little political will to change what needs to be changed."
"And too many squatters living on the river banks and esteros." adds A., a public school teacher. "Most of them are from the Visayas and Mindanao. They are usually the ones who get the worst of it during flooding and similar calamities. The government must find a way to return them home and discourage this rampant migration to the cities like Manila."
In most cases, of course, there is a lot of sympathy and empathy for the heartrending stories of tragedy and suffering that the victims of Ondoy and Peping had to live through. After all, the local folk also know, from first hand experience, what it is like to be helpless and at the receiving end of severe calamitous events be it natural or man-made.
On a couple of occasions in the not so distant past they had also been humbled by strong typhoons which in a coastal town like Lianga can be devastatingly destructive. They still have bitter memories of losing homes and family members to storm tossed seas and raging floods. They have also been the reluctant victims of war and armed conflict brought about by simply being in a hot spot for a festering communist insurgency.
So beneath the heartfelt commiseration is also a sense of dread and foreboding. Can such a terrible thing also happen here anytime soon? How will the locals deal a similar calamity happening in their very own communities?
It may be hardship time for many Filipinos in Metro Manila and northern Luzon but here they are safe and secure while basking in the summer-like heat and sunny weather of Lianga. That is, of course, until their turn comes up to feel once more the wrath of Mother Nature at her most capricious and most cruel. And that is something that can happen anytime, sooner or later.
And when it does happen, what they fear, most of all, will be seeing, to their horror, that the faces of suffering and loss staring out of their televisions screens will be none other than their very own.